Ajeeb Daastaans, On Netflix, Is An Uneven Mix Of Mediocrity And Merit

Administrators: Neeraj Ghaywan, Raj Mehta, Shashank Khaitan and Kayoze Irani
Writers: Neeraj Ghaywan, Sumit Saxena, Shashank Khaitan and Uzma Khan.
Edited by: Nitin Baid.
Cinematography: Jishnu Bhattacharjee, Pushkar Singh and Siddharth Vasani
Starring: Konkona Sensharma, Aditi Rao Hydari, Nushrratt Bharuccha, Abhishek Banerjee, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Jaideep Ahlawat, Shefali Shah and Manav Kaul
Streaming on: Netflix

The awfully corny title, Ajeeb Daastaans, considerably reveals the central theme of Netflix’s new four-film anthology. Every of the shorts is a riff on the duality of storytelling – present on the intersection of the privileged and the marginalised, the seen and the unseen, the spoken and the silenced. The wishes of a driver’s grownup son, a hustling housemaid, a Dalit manufacturing facility employee and a hearing-impaired man outline the conflicts of inherently prejudiced environments. That is historically tough terrain for Indian creators: there’s at all times the chance of sacrificing the id of the disenfranchised on the altar of narrative gimmickry.

Sadly, the primary two of the 4 shorts succumb to exactly that. Shashank Khaitan’s Majnu and Raj Mehta’s Khilauna interpret the duality as low-cost parlour methods: diploma-film-level climactic twists, tone-deaf shock worth and a common fetishisation of tradition and storytelling. Each individual in them is merely a tool meant to allow a perverse revelation which, in each instances, is laughably flimsy. Majnu, particularly, is in poor style: a primary instance of how socio-cultural blind spots are sometimes ingrained right into a maker’s love for mainstream Bollywood templates.

It opens with a hopeful younger bride on her marriage ceremony evening dryly being informed by her older husband (Jaideep Ahlawat) that their marriage is simply a political association, and that he’s in love with another person. This lady, Lipakshi (Fatima Sana Shaikh), spends the remainder of the movie torn between mourning and moaning, conforming to the saucy Savita Bhabhi stereotype of the repressed Indian housewife. She seduces the oxygen in each body, her voice turns into a flirty extension of a carnal grunt, portray the mansion pink with the kind of heightened heterosexual pining that may be a giveaway by itself. A commoner who buys a sultry nightie for her is punished by dipping his privates into boiling oil like a human fritter. When the driving force’s hunky son, Raj (after all), turns into the household’s new monetary advisor with a 90s-Yash Raj-hero entry shot, Majnu makes use of its sensual physique to cover what it thinks is a delicate coronary heart. However the conceit is cringeworthy sufficient to reiterate many years of the very gaze it’s attempting to reverse. The twist is unintentionally comical the identical approach most horror motion pictures are usually inadvertently humorous.

This misfire is nearly on par with the whodunnit tone of the second movie, Khilauna, that makes use of a homicide investigation to depict the social tensions brewing in an upper-middle-class colony. A housemaid (a miscast Nushrratt Bharuccha), her playful Eight-year-old sister and a neighbourhood dhobi (Abhishek Banerjee) type a bunch of societal misfits being interrogated for a criminal offense at a sleazy employer’s home. Their variations of the story type the narrative. The sinister subtext – “servants are toys to the privileged and masters are toys to the servants” – is spelt out by a personality, lest we will’t understand the ghastly nature of the crime revealed ultimately. Once more, the physicality of the movie seems like a business machine. The shrewd housemaid is framed as a sexual fantasy of an Indian engineering pupil slightly than an actual individual, and the graphic ending is extra a consequence of creative posturing than lived-in rage.

Neeraj Ghaywan’s brief movie, Geeli Pucchi, is definitely essentially the most completed of the lot. This isn’t stunning, contemplating Ghaywan is the one film-maker with a legacy on this medium. A wonderful Konkona Sensharma stars as Bharti, a queer Dalit manufacturing facility employee whose goals of a desk job are derailed with the arrival of Priya (a cleverly solid Aditi Rao Hydari), a coy upper-caste lady with half of Bharti’s qualifications. Remarkably, Ghaywan and co-writer Sumit Saxena refuse to isolate the id of the story. No misplaced labels of feminism and empowerment are connected to it. As a substitute, as is the case in life, it’s the intersectionality of a number of identities that defines the greyness of its individuals. There’s gender: the 2 ladies type a bond by advantage of being the one females at work. There’s class: blue-collar Bharti’s loneliness is shot in a different way from savarna Priya’s cramped home house, and Priya is commonly seen coming down a staircase to the ‘decrease’ part to eat lunch with Bharti. There’s sexuality: an attraction develops between them, and Priya’s manic-pixie-ness is humanised by way of Bharti’s gaze. There’s ambition: Bharti’s aspiration for a job is a measure of her company. And there’s caste: Bharti lies about her surname to Priya.

Most significantly, the final 5 minutes of the movie make sure that the lower-caste protagonist isn’t valourised as an underdog hero or resolute sufferer. The twist, not like within the first two movies, isn’t superficial however subliminal: a shift in character as an alternative of an explosion of fact. Konkona excels within the position of a wounded spirit. Bharti’s “manliness” – her strolling, speaking and dealing type – is mocked by her male colleagues, however the actress eschews the butch stereotype with nice management, turning her gait into extra of a young survival intuition than a hardened bodily trait. Maybe the one downside with the movie is its sense of exposition. At lunch, one Dalit employee cautiously reminds the opposite of their id and social limitations. It’s unlikely for 2 individuals of the identical standing to converse that approach. Then there’s Priya’s mother-in-law, who explicitly tells her to be aware about whom she socialises with, in addition to the on-the-nose occupation of the father-in-law (a Brahmin priest). The spoon-feeding is jarring however comprehensible, seemingly derived from the truth that caste is commonly misplaced upon uninitiated Hindi movie audiences.

The ultimate brief, Ankahi, directed by Kayoze Irani, is essentially the most uncomplicated of the 4. It options Shefali Shah as an upper-class Mumbai housewife who – in her battle to adapt to the escalating deafness of her teen daughter – cheats on her crabby husband (Tota Roy Chowdhury) with a good-looking knight in hearing-impaired armour (Manav Kaul). I like that the movie consists across the prospect of deafness, and by extension, the visible language of hand gestures and muted expressions. Romance is inherently ingrained into its type. The quintessential Indian love story is based on the amplification of this exact language – emoting with the eyes, the mouth, the physique, by way of music and religious connection. The casting is correct: there are not any two higher actors than Shah and Kaul when it comes to facial acrobatics. They’ve essentially the most naturally vivid film faces, which makes the unlikely chemistry between the 2 characters very plausible.

The battle of the wedding on the core displays the Sound of Metal template. There’s a push-and-pull between two incapacity ideologies – the homemaking mother or father learns signal language to immerse herself into the world of her daughter, the working mother or father is saving up for a cochlear implant to maintain his daughter in his ‘regular’ world. Irani reveals a good bit of directorial aptitude – particularly in an early scene that syncs the cacophony of a marital spat with the silence of the kid watching it by way of a terrific match-cut that includes a glass of whisky. The ultimate scene is kind of stretched, overdoing the ‘face’ performing, but it surely’s nonetheless a great distance forward of the place Ajeeb Daastaans begins. 

A fifty % success price for many anthologies is par for the course. However the statistic doesn’t bear in mind the badness of the misfires versus the greatness of the bullseyes. Fortunately, the sequence of the shorts helps: the 2 stable segments are third and fourth, leaving the viewer with a way of hope. If not for the well-performed objective of Geeli Pucchi, nonetheless, Ajeeb Daastaans might need been a significantly diminished metaphor for storytelling.

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